CO-Driven Activity in Comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) [EPA]

Comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) was discovered by the Pan-STARRS1 (PS1) Survey on 2017 May 21 at a distance 16.09 au from the Sun, the second most distant discovery of an active comet. Pre-discovery images in the PS1 archive back to 2014 and additional deep CFHT images between 2013 May 10-13 showed the comet to be active at 23.75 au. We derive an upper limit to the nucleus radius of $R_N$=80 km, assuming a 4\% albedo. The spectral reflectivity of the comet surface is similar to “fresh” regions seen on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko using the $Rosetta$ OSIRIS camera. Pre-discovery photometry combined with new data obtained with Megacam on the CFHT show that the activity is consistent with CO-ice sublimation and inconsistent with CO$2$-ice sublimation. The ice sublimation models were run out to perihelion in 2022 at 1.8 au to predict the CO production rates, assuming that the outgassing area does not change. Assuming a canonical 4\% active surface area for water-ice sublimation, we present production rate ratios, $Q{\rm CO}$/$Q_{\rm H2O}$, for a range of nucleus sizes. Comparing these results with other CO-rich comets we derive a lower limit to the nucleus radius of $\sim$14 km. We present predictions for $Q_{\rm CO}$ at a range of distances that will be useful for planning observations with JWST and large ground-based facilities.

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K. Meech, J. Kleyna, O. Hainaut, et. al.
Thu, 12 Oct 17

Comments: 5 pages, 4 figures